We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and as a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is a time to act in the Congress, in your state and local legislative body, and, above all, in all of our daily lives.
— John F. Kennedy
A few days ago, the nation marked the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington. A march beginning at the Washington Monument it ended at the Lincoln Memorial. It was there Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of his dream of a nation in which his children would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.
June 11th was the 57th anniversary of another seminal speech in American history—President Kennedy’s televised address to the nation on civil rights. It was a speech Dr. King called the most eloquent, profound, and unequivocal pleas for justice and freedom of all men ever made by any President. It would be one of the last speeches of President Kennedy’s life.
Seventy days from now, the likely future of US climate policy for at least the next decade will be determined. Moreover, what happens in the US won't stay in the US.
Should Trump retain the presidency and the Republicans their Senate majority a rollback of US environmental protections to a time before Nixon would be all too possible. Continued Democratic control of the House is insufficient to stop Trump from exercising or even abusing presidential powers. Over the course of his presidency, US environmental policy has been made in courtrooms rather than the halls of Congress.
Under almost any circumstance, a Biden victory would serve to put the nation back on a decarbonization course—albeit one that could prove as vulnerable to a reversal of fortune as Obama's environmental legacy and would occur to Trump. Should the Democrats capture both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, the possibility of sweeping climate legislation rises substan-tially—that is assuming they are better at reconciling intraparty differences than they were the last time they controlled Congress and the White House.
Whether by executive order or sweeping legislation, a just transition to a low-carbon economy will prove a heavy lift, and, as always, the devil is in the details. In the case of climate change, the details are considerable.
The death of George Floyd, an African American man, under the knee of a White Minneapolis police officer, has triggered a racial justice reckoning the likes of which we haven't seen since the 1960s[i]. Racial justice has, in many ways, become a metonym for all the socio-economic and political inequities that have been ailing America for decades.
As I had discussed in Part 1 of the series, institutions and groups in the clean energy and environment sectors are as open to the charge of systemic racism as the rest of American society. And, like others, they are using the occasion of the Floyd killing and the Black Lives Matter movement to reflect on and rectify the inequities within their own organizations.
The challenges of 2020—the COVID-19 contagion, systemic racism, and a depressive economic downturn—have cast a new light on the concept of the Green New Deal (GND) as it has been incorporated into the climate policies being proposed by the Select House Committee on the Climate Crisis and the policy planks of the Democratic Party and its candidates in the 2020 elections.
Unlike environmental and energy policies of the past, the GND concept reaches across the sectors of society to address multiple issues and objectives in one integrated package. The current contagion has shown the critical importance of science-based policies.
The depressive economic downturn that has resulted from the pandemic is offering nations and opportunity to recalibrate their economies in ways that will put them on the path to environmental and economic sustainability. The [legitimate] marchers in the street today are exercising their rights to demand justice and equality, as promised in the US Constitution.
Effective policymaking requires an appreciation of the issues involved. In the case of integrative climate-related policies that seek to redress injustices, as well as to address Earth's warming, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the terms environmental, energy, and climate justice. Although sharing some core characteristics, e.g., limiting access to the policymaking process, the terms are not interchangeable. It is similarly essential to comprehend how the phrase energy security may mean one thing to a president and something else to the head of a household below the federal poverty line.
Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.
— Congressman John Lewis
The crises of 2020—the COVID-19 contagion, systemic racism, and a depressive economic downturn—are testing the mettle of American society. Curiously, they are also expediting efforts to address racial injustice and economic, energy, and environmental inequality within an integrated national climate policy framework.
Since the introduction of the Green New Deal (GND) onto the national stage by Representative Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), the sense of political possibility has been growing. Conceptually the GND goes beyond conventional energy and environmental issues to address underlying social, economic, and racial injustices and inequalities.
The GND concept was roundly ridiculed by congressional Republicans and Democrats alike when it first appeared on Capitol Hill. In less than two years, however, the integrative concept has become a primary policy plank of the Democratic Party and its presumptive presidential candidate—Joe Biden.
Accounting for the rather radical change of approach to solving the climate crisis has been the confluence of events like the record number of billion-dollar weather disasters and the emergence of a novel coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 contagion. The failure of governments to act in a concerted manner has laid bare the dysfunction of the nation’s political leaders and confirmed for the 99-percent the privileges afforded the one percent.
The death of George Floyd, an African American man, under the knee of a White Minneapolis police officer has triggered a racial justice reckoning the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1960s[i]. Racial justice has, in many ways, become a metonym for the socio-economic and political inequities that have been ailing America for decades.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.